TIME isis

There Is a Real Threat to the Pope From ISIS, Says Vatican Security Chief

Pope Francis Holds His Weekly General Audience
Christopher Furlong—Getty Images Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he drives around St Peter's Square ahead of his first weekly general audience as pope on March 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

But the papal residence's police have no knowledge of any specific plot

The commander of the Vatican’s security forces acknowledged the existence of a real threat to Pope Francis from ISIS, but said there is no indication of a planned attack on the Catholic leader.

“The threat exists,” Domenico Giani told Italian state publication Polizia Moderna, reports the Catholic news website Crux.

Giani is the inspector-general of the Corpo della Gendarmeria, the police unit that protects Vatican City. “At the moment, I can say that we know of no plan for an attack against the Vatican or the Holy Father,” he said.

ISIS explicitly mentioned Italy and its Christians as a potential target recently, calling it “the nation signed with the blood of the cross” in a video that featured images of 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded this month. The Islamic militant organization also warned of its proximity to Italy, saying its forces are “south of Rome” in Libya.

Four months ago, ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq also featured Vatican City’s famed St. Peter’s Square on its cover with the headline “The Failed Crusade,” depicting the terrorist group’s flag flying over the piazza’s central obelisk.

[Crux]

TIME faith

Pope Francis Rails Against Modern ‘Throwaway Culture’

Pope Francis delivers his speech during a special audience with members of the confederation of Italian cooperatives in Paul VI hall at the Vatican
Tony Gentile—Reuters Pope Francis delivers his speech during a special audience with members of the confederation of Italian cooperatives at the Vatican, Feb. 28, 2015.

Condemns the global economic order once again

Pope Francis has once again spoken out about the global economic climate, decrying an economic system that “seems fatally destined to suffocate hope and increase risks and threats.”

Speaking in Rome, the Pope condemned what he called a “throwaway culture created by the powers that control the economic and financial policies of the globalized world.”

But he proposed a solution of sorts, in the form of economic cooperatives that would help spread wealth equally: “Money at the service of life can be managed in the right way by cooperatives, on condition that it is a real cooperative where capital does not have command over men but men over capital.”

He quoted his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, in calling money the “devil’s dung,” according to Vatican Radio. “When money becomes an idol, it controls man’s choices,” he added. “It makes him a slave.”

This is far from the first time the Pope has addressed the condition of the working class in the globalized world; in a speech at the U.N. last year, the Pope asked world leaders to redistribute wealth.

[Vatican Radio]

TIME faith

Harassment of Jews Across World Hits 7-Year High

Intimidation of Jewish people was particularly prevalent in Europe

The number of countries where Jews faced harassment rose to a seven-year high in 2013, according to new study on persecution of religious groups around the world.

The Pew Research Center found that Jews were harassed by governments or social groups in 77 countries of the 198 in the study, up from 71 countries the year before. The study measured both instances of government policies that restrict religious practices and private acts of hostility and found that Jews were far more likely to face private attacks or abuse than other religious groups.

Christianity, the world’s most widespread religion, faced instances of harassment in 102 countries. Among Christians, most instances involved government harassment. Muslims were harassed in 99 countries.

Harassment of Jews in 2013 was particularly prevalent in Europe. Among 45 European countries, 34 registered instances of private attacks on Jews, a higher proportion than any other geographic region. In March 2013, for example, three men attacked a young man wearing a kippah in a Paris suburb, threatening, “We will kill all of you Jews.” In August, vandals painted a Swastika on the walls of a bull ring outside Madrid. Some 32 countries in Europe saw private attacks on Muslims.

Among the world’s 25 largest countries, the study found that overall levels of harassment against all religious groups were highest in Burma, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia. But overall, the share of countries worldwide with social hostilities involving religion declined in 2013 — dropping six percentage points from 33% to 27%.

 

 

 

TIME Civil Rights

Christian College Student Attacked With Apple for Questioning Treatment of Gays

Wheaton Forum Wall Bulletin Board Gay Student
Sara Kohler A note on a student bulletin board at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., Feb. 24, 2015.

The apple thrower then posted a defense of his actions on a campus wall

After a student at a prominent evangelical college questioned his school’s stance against homosexuality in an all-school forum on Monday, another student allegedly threw an apple at him “as a warning against insulting the Spirit of grace.”

The incident, which college administrators are now addressing, took place on Monday at Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater outside Chicago, during the campus’ traditional “Town Hall Chapel,” a campuswide question and answer session where the college president, currently Philip Ryken, takes questions from the student body. Wheaton holds marriage to be between one man and one woman, and requires students and faculty to uphold that sexual ethic. Christian colleges such as Wheaton have been at the center of the evangelical fight over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) acceptance, especially as younger generations grow increasingly more accepting on issues such as same-sex marriage.

The most recent conflict began when Philip Fillion, a class of 2015 organ performance major and married heterosexual, asked Ryken a question about the theological consistency of Wheaton’s position against homosexuality. He posted his question in full in a public note on his Facebook page:

“All students, via the Community Covenant, and all faculty, via the Statement of Faith, are required to affirm a sexual ethic that denies everyone except celibates and married straight people a place in the kingdom of God. This sexual ethic is not at all universal and depends on a reading of scripture that is incredibly narrow and ignores history, culture, and science. The Statement of Faith and the Community Covenant also lack any language about the sacraments of the Christian church. Why is it the case that our college, in documents we all must agree to or be expelled, insists on formally condemning and denying equality to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, on spurious theological grounds, yet completely leaves behind baptism and Eucharist, which Jesus Christ himself instituted to grow and strengthen the Christian community?”

As he returned to his seat, the college tells TIME, another student sitting nearby threw the apple at him, and missed. Fillion tells TIME it hit him on his left shoulder partly through his question. “There was no response when the fruit was thrown. No boos, no gasp,” he says. “A student was in line after me and when it was his turn to ask a question, he began his time at the microphone by calling out whoever had thrown the fruit, remarking that such behavior was inappropriate and disrespectful. There was restrained applause for this.”

“President Ryken did not see the incident and did not fully understand what happened until after chapel ended,” Wheaton College told TIME in a statement.

At first, the apple was the end of the story, though some students were bothered. Justin Massey, a senior political science major and a co-founder of the campus’ LGBT student group Refuge, was disturbed that the incident did not garner more serious attention. “I saw peers exert more effort into rationalizing the offense rather than demonstrating support to the LGBT community whose experiences were disrespected,” Massey wrote on his blog. “From three separate individuals I have heard that the disruptive student simply felt ‘the question was just too long,’ ‘the tone of the inquiring student appeared rude,’ and even ‘it was simply a joke gone wrong.’ Each of these answers has one thing in common: they take responsibility off of the offending individual in an attempt to absolve this student of displaying any prejudice against a minority group.”

But the situation escalated dramatically when a student claiming to be the apple-thrower then posted a letter on the campus’ public bulletin board, the “Forum Wall,” a space traditionally designated for student opinions, accepting responsibility for and defending his actions, Wheaton confirms. “Dear Enemy,” the note began. “In regards to ‘casting a stone,’ you would be mistaken to think that I threw the apple out of hatred. I have strong aim and could hit a head at fifteen meters if I wanted to. No, I threw it purposefully as a warning against insulting the Spirit of grace. Because Truth itself was maligned. For the destruction of those who ‘have the form of godliness but deny its power’ was written about long ago. And in regards to the story of the adulteress, have you not read what Jesus told the woman, ‘God now and leave your life of sin.’ ? So neither do I condemn you, but do fear God and live in righteousness! Do not choose destruction.” Signed: “Not ashamed of Truth, Roland Hesse.”

Late Tuesday night, Massey wrote a letter to Ryken and other campus leaders, alerting them of the Forum Wall letter and arguing that the incident was more than just a theological dispute. “Upon reading this letter I feel threatened and unsafe, and I know that I am not the only student who feels this way,” Massey, who is openly gay, wrote. “This action of throwing an item at another student is violent in nature and his sentiments reflected in the Forum Wall post are threatening….My peers and I strongly feel that prompt discussion, discipline, and communication with the student body must take place to explicitly call out these actions and properly deal with this situation.”

Massey and other students, LGBT and allied, met with campus officials Wednesday morning to discuss the situation. “The religious tone and justification that he voiced, that was really frightening to us,” Massey says. “That is why we are asking for the College to specifically recognize that this incident targeted a minority group of people, that this wasn’t just a theological disagreement—this was LGBT students feeling the weight of the actions.”

Ryken briefly addressed the situation to the student body in Wednesday’s all-school chapel. The incident comes the same week as another Wheaton student was arrested for allegedly secretly filming a female Wheaton student in her shower since October 2014. “He asked our community to pray for leaders from Student Development and the Chaplain’s Office who hold students accountable and work with them for repentance, healing, and reconciliation,” Wheaton’s statement to TIME continues. “Wheaton College unequivocally condemns acts of disrespect, aggression and intimidation. While expressions of disagreement are to be expected in a liberal arts learning environment, our expectation is that members of our Christian community express disagreement and debate important issues with courtesy, respect, and love for God and each other—values we express in our Community Covenant. This is especially important when we discuss sensitive and challenging topics, or when our convictions are disputed.”

Wheaton added that “students who violate community standards are held accountable for their actions” but that “federal privacy laws prevents the College from commenting extensively on disciplinary matters.”

However, Massey said that he learned the student has been disciplined.

“It has been confirmed to me that as of this afternoon, the offending student will no longer be on campus, and if he is on campus, LGBT students that feel threatened will be immediately notified,” Massey says. “I’m incredibly impressed at how the administration is responding—I’m very pleased to know they are taking this seriously.”

As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”

TIME faith

Is There a Future for Jews in Europe?

The fight against anti-Semitism in Europe is linked to the fight against Islamophobia

A young girl’s bat mitzvah is cut short. The life of a volunteer security guard is permanently cut short. The Jewish community of Copenhagen is only the latest in Europe to face the rising tide of anti-Semitic violence. It is almost impossible to comprehend how a community that still within living memory experienced the most systemic attempt at their genocide in history, now once again, faces the fear of terrorist attacks. This time though it is very different. Despite the strong emotional resonance this is not the 1930s all over again. Instead of state governments actively acting as the agents of death and destruction, they are working to protect their Jewish communities. Brian Lehrer on New York Public Radio noted how much of a difference this is in contrast to the past two millennia of European government behavior toward the Jewish communities within their borders. This is not the 1930s.

Yet, it is hard to deny the palpable fear of those within the communities under assault. The Jewish Agency, the organization responsible for facilitating Jewish immigration to Israel posted the following tweet from France last week:

There are thousands, possible tens of thousands, of European Jews now seriously contemplating immigration to Israel. To be sure this is not the only picture. There are countless pictures of people defiantly proud of the places of their birth and determined not to leave. When I visited the French city of Marseille in the summer of 2013 as part of an interfaith conference I met with members of the Jewish community who despite regular acts of intimidation and assault remained determined to stay. The story of thousands lining up to attend seminars on immigration to Israel is as honest a depiction of the current Jewish reality as are the countless stories of those who will not leave. Both stories are true. It is within that framing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered the following words to the Danish Jewish community in the wake of the shooting at the synagogue:

“Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe… To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

Was Netanyahu right to call for a mass wave of immigration of European (and indeed worldwide) Jewry to Israel? Was this within his responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel? Should he have offered support in other ways? Was this only political maneuvering as the upcoming elections in Israel loom large?

The Chief Rabbi of Denmark, Jair Melchior, responded critically to Netanyahu: “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.” Others have praised his call as courageous and the right thing to do as the Prime Minister of Israel.

Is there a future for Jews in Europe?

First, it needs to be said as clearly as possible: The fight against anti-Semitism in Europe is linked to the fight against Islamophobia. They are the same fight. I wrote about their connection last week.

In regards to the question of whether the Jews of Europe have a future in Europe, I pray that there is a clear answer to that question but alas there is not. Do the Jews of Europe have the absolute right to live in their countries freely and safely? Yes. Is there a valuable role for a vibrant Jewish diaspora, not only in North America but elsewhere? Yes. Should the Jews of Europe stay? I do not know.

As I think about that question I keep on being haunted by the image of my great-aunt sitting in my parents living room crying about our family who chose not to leave Vienna before it became too late. I am haunted by the historical record of rabbis, community leaders and others reassuring the European Jewish community it would all be fine. I am reminded of the recent retrieval from the New York Times’ archive of its first article on the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1922 that claimed:

“But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.”

Yes, this is clearly not the Europe of the 1930s. Yes, we are blessed to have European states striving to protect all of its citizens, Jews included. Yes, as Prime Minister Valls of France said “France without its Jews is not France.” This is all true, but just because it is not the 1930s does not mean it is not the rise of something new and something we did not predict.

I do not know if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments were merely opportunistic, misguided or insensitive. I simply know that if I am ever asked the question should I stay or should I go, I do not want to be the one who says stay and need to live with the possible horrible consequences of that advice.

Rabbi Ben Greenberg is Director of Programs at Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Young Evangelical Leader Loses Book Deal After Coming Out

Brandan Roberts Evangelical
Cameron Sharrock Brandan Robertson of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

In an exclusive interview with TIME, an evangelical author said his contract with a Christian publisher was canceled

A prominent Christian publisher canceled a book project this week after the author refused to say that he did “not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle,” the author told TIME.

The publisher, Destiny Image, told author Brandan Robertson on Feb. 19 that it would no longer publish his manuscript, Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, for financial reasons. Robertson, the evangelical organizer for Faith in Public Life, who only makes a glancing reference to homosexuality in the manuscript, recently told TIME that he identifies as queer. He said the publisher told him there was concern that evangelical bookstores would not carry the book.

“There is much consideration for every book, every author, but the final determination is financial viability,” explains Don Nori, CEO of Destiny Image’s parent company, Nori Media Group, who declined to discuss the role that issues of sexuality played in the decision.

Destiny’s decision comes as the evangelical fight over marriage equality has intensified in recent months. Two prominent evangelical churches, EastLake Community Church in Seattle and GracePointe Church near Nashville, announced in January that they were giving full membership privileges, including the right to marry and to receive communion, to lesbian and gay congregants. Many evangelical churches, organizations and colleges are taking small, intermediate steps toward inclusion, even as others, like the Southern Baptist Convention, have maintained a hard line against acceptance of same-sex relationships.

Destiny Image recruited Robertson for a book contract last year, with no advance payment, when he was still a student at the conservative Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. “Our core vision at Destiny Image has always been to give an unfiltered voice to emerging authors who are changing the way people see Christianity,” Mykela Krieg, a communications specialist at Destiny wrote to him in January 2014 in an email obtained by TIME.

Robertson submitted a book proposal, which Krieg told him was “great,” and he signed his contract with Destiny that spring. The book is a collection of essays on his personal spiritual journey from a fundamentalist to a progressive evangelical. “It is the archetype of the millennial journey of faith,” Robertson says. “It points to a lot of the struggles that we as millennials have.”

Destiny Image was enthusiastic. “We especially love your title ideas,” Krieg emailed him. “The word ‘nomad’ stood out to both of us.”

After he graduated from college last year, Robertson, now 22, became the national spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, an initiative started by millennials to help evangelicals support civil gay marriages. He spoke at a Reformation Project conference, an effort by fellow evangelical activist Matthew Vines to raise up affirming evangelicals in every evangelical church in the country, last fall. Robertson also blogs regularly about issues of social justice and sexuality on his Patheos blog, “Revangelical,” and has been featured in numerous news outlets for his work to encourage evangelicals toward greater gay and lesbian inclusion. TIME featured Robertson in January in a magazine story, “Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage.

The word gay appears in his Nomad manuscript only one time, in a chapter titled “Grey,” that begins with a quote from the Nobel Literature Prize–winning André Gide, “The color of truth is grey.” Robertson writes: “One high school biology class is all that it takes to begin asking some serious questions about the book of Genesis and the origins of humanity. One conversation with a close friend who is struggling to be gay and Christian is all that it takes to begin wondering if the interpretation of Leviticus we heard in Sunday school is actually applicable in today’s context. One life shattering tragedy is all that it takes to begin rethinking the whole notion of the ‘sovereignty’ of God.”

Last week he turned in his manuscript, and three hours later, he got a reply. “I’m sure it feels amazing to have the manuscript finished!” Krieg wrote. Then she continued: “Since you’ve been receiving more media attention over the past few months, we’ve had some questions/concerns arise from our buyers, and our executive team has asked that I connect with you about your stance on a few issues that may continue to come into question.”

“As soon as I read those words, a knot formed in my stomach,” Robertson says. “I immediately knew that the problem was going to be with my very vocal support of LGBTQ equality and inclusion in the church — unfortunately, I was right.”

Robertson spoke with Krieg on the phone that afternoon. According to Robertson, Krieg explained Destiny’s concern that Christian retailers wouldn’t buy the book because of Robertson’s public advocacy for gay and lesbian inclusion in Christian communities. Krieg then emailed Robertson Destiny’s statement on homosexuality. It was the first time, Robertson says, that they asked him if he could agree with the statement. It reads: “Destiny Image accepts the Holy Scriptures as the infallible word of God and answers all questions concerning life and godliness. We do not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle. Destiny Image renounces this lifestyle as ungodly and completely contrary to the Kingdom of God.”

The statement continues with this Bible passage from 1 Corinthians: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

Robertson emailed Krieg to let them know that he could not sign or uphold such a statement. “I know what this likely means,” he wrote. “But just wanted to be very clear.”

“Thanks so much for your honesty,” Krieg replied, saying that she would relay their conversation to the executive team. “I truly appreciate it, and I completely respect your stance.”

Nine days later, on Feb. 19, Destiny Image called Robertson to inform him that, “for the success of my book and for their financial reasons,” as Robertson puts it, they were no longer going to publish his book. “It just reopened all those rejections wounds,” says Robertson. “I am at a frustrated point, not for my book, but this is so symptomatic of what happens in the broader evangelical community — every day, LGBTQ individuals are told that they are no longer welcome in churches, are kicked out of homes, are fired from jobs, and forced in to reparative therapy by those who claim to represent Jesus.”

When TIME asked Nori why Destiny pulled the book, Nori did not address the role that Robertson’s position on sexuality played in their decision: “There is nothing significant to report,” Nori says. “We did not reject or refuse. As with all books, a publisher decides what is financially viable. We released the book back to the author with our sincere prayers for his success. This occurrence happens every season.”

Destiny publishes popular Christian authors including pastors T.D. Jakes and Bill Johnson.

TIME faith

Gay Catholics Get VIP Treatment at Pope Francis Audience

Gramick and Francis DeBernardo pose in front of St. Peter's Square
Giampiero Sposito—Reuters Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, which ministers to homosexual Catholics and promotes gay rights, pose in front of St. Peter's Square after Pope Francis' weekly audience, Feb. 18, 2015.

New Ways Ministry invited to break new ground

The Vatican did something it has never done before by giving a group of U.S. gay and lesbian Catholics VIP seats at Pope Francis’ weekly general audience Wednesday.

But in a sign that the welcome wasn’t all it could have been, the New Ways Ministry pilgrims were only identified on the Vatican’s list of attendees as a “group of lay people accompanied by a Sister of Loretto.”

And not even that got announced: When a Vatican monsignor read out the list of the different groups of pilgrims in attendance in St. Peter’s Square, he skipped over the group altogether. Francis didn’t mention them, either.

Even without a papal shout-out, New Ways Ministry officials were nevertheless pleased that they had been invited to sit up front by Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the prefect of the papal household who dispenses the coveted reserved tickets for Francis’ audiences.

Gaenswein for years has also been the top aide to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. When Benedict headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he permanently prohibited the New Ways Ministry co-founders, Sister Jeannine Gramick, and the Rev. Robert Nugent, from ministering to gays after determining in 1999 that they didn’t sufficiently adhere to church teaching on the “intrinsic evil” of homosexual acts.

Nugent abided by the directive and died last year. Gramick has continued her ministry, changing religious orders to the Sisters of Loretto, and was on hand for Wednesday’s audience.

“Pope Francis gives me hope,” she told The Associated Press. “To me, this is an example of the kind of willingness he has to welcome those on the fringes of the church back to the center of the church.”

The group’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, said New Ways Ministry had tried unsuccessfully under the previous two popes to get VIP seats for its Rome pilgrimages.

This time, the Vatican ambassador in Washington and the archbishop of San Francisco forwarded their requests onto Rome, a sign that Francis’ call for the church to be more welcoming to gays has filtered down to local church leaders.

“We didn’t get the shout-out, but we were very, very close,” DeBernardo said.

TIME faith

The Problem With #AshTag on Ash Wednesday

The Church is in danger of stripping its rituals of their solemnity and meaning for the fleeting, ephemeral popularity of a social media event

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Let’s just go all the way this Ash Wednesday and stop imposing ashen crosses on foreheads all together.

Instead, let’s simply impose hashtags made of ash.

Because, if we are honest, that’s largely what this day has become about.

The #AshTag, not the ashes.

The virtual, not the real.

The immortal digital, not the mortal flesh.

Ash Wednesday is no longer about repentance and self-examination but about retweets and selfies.

Welcome to #Ashtag Wednesday. Last year, we saw the rise of Ash Wednesday as a trending social media event instead of a solemn service. Clergy mugged for cameras in sacristies with ash on their foreheads. Parishioners shared selfies with the world.

The whole world saw Christians standing on the virtual street corner praying and making their fasts public spectacles. We did the exact thing the Gospel for the day asked us not to.

It is a frustrating trend. A dear friend once said she loved Ash Wednesday because, unlike Easter or Christmas, it was the one day on the Christian calendar that couldn’t be commodified by popular culture.

But what is impossible for man is certainly possible with the church.

Get your #AshTag in church. Where will you get your #AshTag? Post your Ash Wednesday selfie and you might be one of 50 lucky people to win a book!

These are actual pitches this year — by religious organizations — for Ash Wednesday services.

These churches, leaders or organizations aren’t encouraging people to receive ashes as part of the liturgy, as a way to enter into Lent, or as a way to ponder our mortality or the sobering reminder that we are dust and will return to dust.

Rather, they are implicitly encouraging people to come to church in order to post of selfie. It fetishizes ashes. It centers the purpose of ashes in the public consumption of photos and social media rather than in reminding us of our mortality. The systemic push within the church for Ash Wedneday selfies is an exercise in whistling past graveyards. That’s the unfortunate context of the call to “get your #Ashtag.”

So, while I truly hope people don’t post their Ash Wednesday selfies this year, I really can’t blame them. This isn’t about the individuals posting selfies. It’s about the church itself, which is promoting it, driving it, and attempting to create cool trends rather than to call people into deeper meaning for the season of Lent.

In doing so, the Church is in danger of stripping its rituals of their solemnity and meaning for the fleeting, ephemeral popularity of a social media event.

Ash Wednesday is, if nothing else, a reminder of our mortality. How ironic that now there is a rush to immortalize our piety on this day through the eternal digital life where neither rust destroys nor moth consumes.

We store up these treasures on Twitter.

We have hollowed out the holy call for self-examination with narcissism.

We’ve exchanged the sacred for the selfie.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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Read next: 3 Things to Know About Ash Wednesday

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TIME faith

3 Things to Know About Ash Wednesday

John McCann, a layman at Trinity Church, draws a cross using ash on a man's forehead to symbolize Ash Wednesday, in New York in 2014.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images John McCann, a layman at Trinity Church, draws a cross using ash on a man's forehead to symbolize Ash Wednesday, in New York in 2014.

What to know about the start of Lent

Feb. 18 is Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the first day of Lent and signals the approach of Easter. Here are three things to know about the day.

What’s the purpose of Ash Wednesday?

It marks first day of the 40 days of Lent, a roughly six-week period (not including Sundays) dedicated to reflection, prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. It ends on Holy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) that marks the Last Supper. In addition to certain rules about foods and fasting, many Christians (and even non-Christians) abstain from additional foods, luxury or material goods or certain activities and habits.

Where do the ashes some people put on their face come from?

They’re obtained from the burning of the palms of the previous Palm Sunday, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter, and applied during services. Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, when people waved palm branches to celebrate his arrival. The ashes are typically mixed with Holy Water or oil.

What do the ashes mean?

The ashes, applied in the shape of a cross, are a symbol of penance, mourning and mortality. Centuries ago, participants used to sprinkle themselves with ashes and repent much more publicly, but the practice fell away sometime between the 8th-10th century before evolving into what it is today. There aren’t any particular rules about how long the ashes should be worn, but most people wear them throughout the day as a public expression of their faith and penance.

Read next: This Soccer Match May Just Be the Craziest Ash Wednesday Tradition Ever

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TIME faith

How Scientology Got Its Start

L Ron Hubbard
Chris Ware—Getty Images L Ron Hubbard in 1959

The Church of Scientology was officially formed on Feb. 18, 1954

Though the Church of Scientology was established on this day — Feb. 18 — in 1954, the idea came to L. Ron Hubbard a few years earlier when, according to Scientology’s official website, “with further investigation through late 1951 and 1952, Ron indeed contacted, measured and provided a means to experience the human soul.”

It was around that time that those investigations drew the attention of TIME, which first explained Scientology in the Dec. 22, 1952, issue. By that point, Hubbard was already known to readers as an author, especially of Dianetics; he had recently left his eponymous Dianetic foundation to work on Scientology. The TIME story was fairly dismissive of his new idea — he had “whipped up the bastard word Scientology,” it reported — but still took the time to explain how it worked:

It all began when Hubbard added an electrical gadget to his dianetic auditing—an “electropsychomeer” or “E-meter,” something like a lie detector. The subject holds electrodes in his hands, and a dial needle records changes in current when he tells about deeply disturbing things in his past. Hubbard found that some of his subjects could not locate “painful prenatal experiences” anywhere on earth, but when he asked them whether these things had happened on another planet, the needle jumped like crazy.

This was enough for Hubbard. He scrapped his old dianetics “time track” (running back to the moment of the subject’s conception) and soared off through “whole track” cosmic space. In a number of booklets and pamphlets on Scientology and “electropsychometry,” he tells how he has discovered and isolated “Life Energy in such a form as to revive the dead or dying . . . [gained] the ability to make one’s body old or young at will, the ability to heal the ill without physical contact, the ability to cure the insane and incapacitated.”

And, no matter how TIME addressed the idea, Scientology was already gaining adherents. Scientology clubs were becoming popular, the article noted: “Needed for a club’s start: a collection of Hubbard’s books ($2 to $5) and an E-meter ($98.50 at Hubbard’s Phoenix headquarters).”

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Remember Venus?

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